Women’s boxing made considerable strides in 2022. Fighters who had spent years — in some cases over a decade — fighting for relevancy and a chance to push their names and the sport into the spotlight have finally accomplished it.
There were exciting fights and moments, some that fans are still talking about months after the fights occurred. And this is something for the sport to build on in 2023. Which can happen with the current group of well-known names, like Claressa Shields, Katie Taylor and Amanda Serrano continuing to fight.
But in order for there to be real growth, sustainability and stability in the sport, there needs to be depth. There needs to be more than just the biggest names at the top of the women’s boxing world to connect with fans.
You know the Serranos, Taylors, Shieldses and Alycia Baumgardners. The Mikaela Mayers and Seniesa Estradas. This list is more about who you might be talking about at the end of 2023, that you weren’t quite as familiar with at this point in the year.
The caveat with this list is this: If a fighter is in the current ESPN pound-for-pound top 10, they were not considered for this list — so those six names above, along with Chantelle Cameron, Jessica McCaskill, Franchon Crews-Dezurn and Natasha Jonas were not eligible.
On the whole, these aren’t fighters who are prospects. They are ones, in many cases, who already have world titles but by the end of the year could end up pushing for a spot on the pound-for-pound list or could become bigger stars in the sport — similar toBaumgardner and Jonas in 2022.
This is not a ranking. The fighters are listed in alphabetical order.
Ramla Ali – Junior featherweight
Record: 7-0, 2 KOs
Ali’s inspiring story has been well-documented and she proved in 2022 she’s willing to take on history. Ali became one of the first women fighters to box professionally in Saudi Arabia. In that fight she showed more potential, too, knocking out Crystal Garcia Nova in the first round.
It’s been a highly-paced career for the 33-year-old- junior featherweight who was born in Somalia and raised in London. The combination of her life story, her history-making work for women in sport in Somalia, her modeling with high-fashion brands Dior and Cartier and the non-profit she set up — has turned her into one of the more well-known women’s boxers.
The level of Ali’s boxing career has started to match what she’s been doing outside of it. She fights Avril Mathie at the Hulu Theater in New York’s Madison Square Garden. Should she win that fight, it wouldn’t be surprising to see a world title opportunity later in 2023. Combine that with everything else she is involved in — including a movie being made about her life — and she could end up having a larger star turn that might push the sport forward this year.
Ebanie Bridges – IBF bantamweight champion
Record: 9-1, 4 KOs
Last year Bridges’ boxing career caught up to her social media following (over 700,000 followers on Instagram).
Bridges vastly improved as a fighter in 2022, beating Maria Cecilia Roman by unanimous decision to win the IBF bantamweight title and then defending her belt against Shannon O’Connell in what was her most impressive performance to date — an eighth-round knockout of the multi-time world title challenger.
The O’Connell fight showed a different layer to Bridges’ skillset beyond the toughness she’d already displayed in previous fights and caught a lot of attention. In 2022, Bridges proved her fighting skill has caught up with everything else to the point where the combination of how she markets herself and how she boxes could send the 36-year-old on a clear path to boxing stardom in 2023.
Kim Clavel – WBC junior flyweight champion
Record: 16-0, 3 KOs
Editor’s note: Watch Kim Clavel defend her title against Jessica Nery Playa on Friday at 7 p.m. on ESPN+.
The 32-year-old has had a bit of bad luck in lead-ups to fights — she suffered an injury prior to a Dec. 2021 fight, COVID postponed an April 2022 fight and the flu pushed back her junior flyweight unification bout against Jessica Nery Plata from December to January 13.
But provided that her health cooperates, this could be a breakout year for the nurse-turned-fighter who won an ESPY for her work as a health care professional during the early days of COVID. If Clavel beats Plata to unify two 108-pound world titles, it could set her up for two more career-defining fights by the end of 2023: Against IBF and WBO champion Yokasta Valle and Seniesa Estrada, the highest-rated pound-for-pound fighter in the lower weight classes of boxing.
Clavel has been fighting since the mid-2000s, won her first Canadian title in 2010 and turned pro in 2017. Her last fight, in July 2022, was her first title shot and first world title, beating Yesenia Gomez by unanimous decision.
Beatriz Ferreira – Junior lightweight
Record: 2-0, 1 KOs
The lightweight silver medalist from the 2020 Tokyo Olympics has had a brief pro career but already caught attention because her debut fight was at 3-minute rounds (women’s boxing matches are 2-minute rounds). Then, in her second pro fight, the 30-year-old knocked out Carisse Brown in the second round in a dominant performance.
She could be on the fast track and is taking an interesting approach — she’s planning on fighting simultaneously as a pro and amateur this year as she wants to compete for Brazil again in the 2024 Olympics while also having a pathway to a pro world title.
While some fighters struggle transitioning to the pro style from amateurs, that’s not an issue here. She’s proven she has what it takes. As an amateur, she also won the 2019 world championships at lightweight.
It’s a unique approach and one she might be able to handle. When you watch Ferreira fight, it’s clear she has power and skill. This year will be critical for her and that’s part of what makes her intriguing to watch. By the time 2024 rolls around, it’s conceivable we could be talking about her as both a gold medalist and world title contender.
Gabriela Fundora – Flyweight
Record: 9-0, 4 KOs
She was one of our fighters to watch last year, and the flyweight capitalized with five fights — and five wins — in 2022. The 20-year-old has already fought in three countries and has shown she’s willing to take on high-level competition.
Gabriela, the younger sister of junior middleweight top contender Sebastian Fundora, is a tough matchup within her division because of her 5-foot-9 height combined with her power — two of those five 2022 fights were stoppages — and a technical skill many boxers her age don’t possess.
It would not be surprising to see Fundora fighting for a world title by the end of 2023 in a division where the four belts are held by four different women from three countries. She’s young enough, too, where she can connect to an up-and-coming audience, which can only help her growth as well as she’s still getting better fight-by-fight.
Read more about the Fighting Fundoras.
Ellie Scotney – Junior featherweight
Record: 6-0, 0 KOs
Scotney, who was named 2022 ESPN’s prospect of the year, is one of the fastest risers in the sport. The 24-year-old junior featherweight may only be 6-0, but she’s faced reasonably good competition along the way, including a dominant unanimous decision win over former IBF bantamweight champion Maria Cecilia Roman in May.
She followed it up with a closer-than-expected win over Mary Romero in October, but Romero was legitimate competition as well. Scotney is a clear rising star under the Matchroom Boxing promotion and it would not be surprising to see her get a world title shot sooner than later.
She’s part of a division with a lot of young talent, too, including WBC champion Yamileth Mercado, 24, and IBF champion Cherneka Johnson, 27. In November, the IBF made Scotney the mandatory challenger to Johnson in what could be one of the more intriguing fights of 2023 if it happens.
Yokasta Valle – WBO/IBF junior flyweight champion
Record: 27-2, 9 KOs
Valle is a pound-for-pound top 10 talent and could be in line to become a star in 2023. The 30-year-old from Nicaraguan who lives in Costa Rica is a two-belt, two-division champion — holding the IBF and WBO titles in both the strawweight and junior flyweight categories and has been strong at both weight classes throughout her career.
She’s only lost twice — in back-to-back fights to Naoko Fujioka for the WBO junior flyweight title in 2017 and Tina Rupprecht for the WBC interim strawweight title in 2018. Since then, it’s been a pretty clear path to taking on big chances.
Valle is willing to be active, too, having fought four times in 2022 — including a unification fight at strawweight in September and then beating Evelin Nazarena Bermudez for the junior flyweight titles in November.
Valle has some power and an aggressive style to her fighting. Sitting at the lower weight classes could allow her to end up bouncing between divisions. An eventual fight between Valle and the winner of Estrada-Rupprecht in March for an undisputed strawweight title would be one of the more anticipated fights of the year, as would Valle against the Clavel-Plata winner at junior flyweight.
Consider, it’s possible depending on outcomes that Valle could be a two-division undisputed champion at the same time. That’s the definition of making a star.